Month:

May, 2019

A few months ago, a woman I’d never heard of contacted me via Facebook, offering her services to run my Facebook ads. I didn’t know her, but she came on confident and strong. The average returns she represented as relatively simple to achieve were impressive: 50% or greater ROI, per month. She billed herself as a “Facebook expert,” which you’ll soon see was akin to someone who’d started taking tap dancing classes last week billing themselves as a dance instructor and star of stage and screen.

At the time, using AMSAdwerks for my Amazon ads, I was seeing north of 100% monthly ROI on a five figure monthly spend, so the thought of being able to pull even half that from a platform I’d left for dead a while ago was appealing.

Her fee schedule was steep and scaled higher as a spend increased, but if she could perform, I reasoned it would be worth it.

I paid her base fee up front ($1600 USD), which she requested given the level of spend I authorized ($50 a day to start), and she “went to work.” Which it turns out consisted of generating a few ads, slapping them up, and then doing nothing.

After two weeks of my tech guru watching the non-performance on $531 of spend, which literally resulted in not a single additional sale, we pulled the plug. There was zero communication from her after the fee had changed hands, and no explanation for what amounted to maybe an hour’s worth of work for her fee.

We requested half the money back, since it was obvious she wasn’t doing anything. She refused. We told her that if that was the case, she could expect me to write about my experience with her. We never heard anything more.

The woman’s name is Kerry Gardiner, and it turns out I’m not the only one who’s been taken by her. Since I posted a FB rant about this last week, I’ve received quite a few PMs and emails, as well as public posts, from other authors who’ve been stung as well – everything from using quotes from luminaries who’ve repeatedly told her to take them down as they didn’t endorse her and didn’t want their names associated with her, to folks who paid for courses that never manifested or were garbage, to shady dealings on bundles she was involved with. You name it, I’ve got ’em, and they’re still pouring in.

Perhaps the most notable is million selling author and internet marketing guru (vs. purported “expert”) Mark Dawson. I’ll post a brief summary that appeared on his SPF site at the end of this blog. It leaves little to the imagination. I could also reprint the rest of the correspondence I’ve received describing various forms of fuckery, but then this post would be novel length. Take my word for it, though, there are numerous authors who got snowed in one way or another.

You may be asking yourself why anyone in their right mind, who was running a scam, would elect to solicit one of the top selling indies on Amazon, and also put the pork to someone with as much visibility as Mark Dawson. I have two theories. First is that she’s become emboldened due to having successfully taken numerous others who didn’t speak out, presumably out of concern of a nuisance suit, and figured she could just keep up the con with impunity. Second is that she’s insane or delusional or desperate to pay the light bill this month (or all three), and figured I would just write it off given what a pittance I’d paid.

Which shows that she didn’t do her research, or mistook her delusion that she could fly for the actual ability to do so.

I’ve been told that she’s blaming her non-performance on everything from “his covers suck” (which ignores that those same covers have shifted several million copies and are generating 75-125% ROI on Amazon all through this period, to this day) to “illness caused me to be unable to perform” – the ever favorite “blame the customer” converting to “I’m a victim.” Which is tantamount to taking $100 to mow my lawn, and then not mowing it and blaming the type of grass or that she hurt her arm – and ignores that I paid to have my lawn mowed, not a sob story or a string of excuses.

I was baffled by all this until I read Mark’s post, which illuminated what I was actually dealing with: someone who saw an opportunity to falsely bill themselves as an expert, in violation of their legal agreement not to compete by creating FB courses (based almost entirely on his material or publicly available content) or by soliciting his customers. In other words, a scammer.

A few of her “satisfied clients” have rushed to her defense, which of course ignores both my experience, and Mark’s partner’s disclosure. How many are genuine authors and not sock puppets is unknowable, and frankly I’m uninterested in finding out. If you’re going to take people’s money and fail to perform, you can expect a bright light to be shined on your methods, and the chips to fall where they may.

If anyone thinks that two of the most visible indie authors on Amazon are inventing all this to persecute some poor victim, I’d advise you to consider long and hard how plausible that is, versus that this is exactly what it looks and sounds like.

Here’s the post from SPF:

“We (SPF) have sat on this issue for some time. We’ve been reluctant to post about it, because we did not want to make an unhappy situation even worse.

However, in light of the comments in this thread and the ambiguity about Kerry’s relationship with SPF, I think it is time to put this on the record.

Please note that Russell Blake and Joseph Alexander are friends of SPF, they are both very experienced and successful in the world of self-publishing and we take what both of them say seriously.

This is our own experience.

Kerry started working for SPF in 2016. She signed a standard contract with us that contains clauses that prevent her from competing with us and a duty to respect confidential information. These are standard terms.

She worked with us until earlier this year. We paid her to help moderate our Facebook groups and make sure they continue to be drama-free and safe places. Mark introduced her to Facebook Messenger bots and she became good at them, so much so that we paid her to produce a module for Ads for Authors. As far as we know, she had never used Facebook ads before; we believe that Mark taught her how to implement them.

Over the course of the last two and a bit years, Kerry asked for and received a lot of help and support. Mark helped her as she tried to build a business teaching others how to build bots (we had no interest in this ourselves, and so there was no grounds for competition); we promoted a webinar for her; we introduced her to other industry figures who might be able to help her. We’ve provided advice and acted as a sounding board for other problems that she’s had, of which there’s no need to get into here. She used her connection with us to introduce herself to the agency responsible for running the Facebook ads for SPF and, despite feeling a little awkward about it, we vouched for her when they asked for a reference.

Basically – we always treated her as a friend.

And then we found out that she has her own Facebook ads course. We were alerted to this by some students, who she seems to have been in dispute with, who told us that Kerry had set up a competing course.

Here are some of the issues we have:

– Kerry signed a contract that prevented her from competing with SPF. We produce a well known and popular Facebook ads course. We believe that setting up this course puts her in breach of her contract.

– Some of the students who have contacted us have assumed – since she was an admin and clearly associated with SPF – that we must have approved or endorsed her course. We’ve seen those sentiments in this thread. Their dissatisfaction with what they have received from her has caused us reputational damage.

– We’ve seen screengrabs of Facebook messages where Kerry has encouraged her students to post testimonials for her course into the SPF Facebook groups while working as a moderator in those groups. Some messages have requested that the posters do not mention that she asked them to make those posts because we try very hard to stop self-promotion. One of Kerry’s jobs as a moderator had been to prevent this type of conduct.

– Further, we’ve seen private messages where Kerry has spoken badly of Mark and SPF, often while extolling the virtues of her own offerings over ours.

– She’s shared information that we consider to be confidential. In one exchange, she gloats that the reason she continued to work for us was to stay on the “inside” so that she knew what we were doing.

It’s me – James – who is posting this because it’s easy to associate SPF with Mark. That’s understandable since his face is plastered everywhere, of course! What’s easy to miss is that the company includes me and John as directors. We left our previous businesses and took a huge risk to help Mark build the company. We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and worked hard, often seven days a week. We are certainly not complaining about that. It’s been an amazing experience.

We’ve made a successful business and community by being super-honest and open about what we do. We don’t take people’s money and hide; you can reach out to any of us and we’ll respond – normally within hours, and sometime minutes. When you buy one of our courses, you get it for life – with free updates. If you request a refund for one of our courses inside of thirty days, we don’t ask questions or make you jump through hoops, we just refund the money. We have a support team that works 24-7 and (almost) 365 days a year because we genuinely care about our students. If there’s a problem, we want to know about it – and help.

It’s therefore all the more upsetting that a trusted person who we’ve worked closely over the years should act in this way. It’s deeply hurtful. It is damaging to the open and honest community we’ve built; we don’t want our students to be compromised in any way whilst utilising our groups or support network.

SPF is how John and I support our families. We have a newly-appointed full-time contractor and other virtual assistants around the world, all of whom depend on the work that we are able to put their way to pay their bills.

Like other entrepreneurs who’ve built something from the ground up, we’re fiercely proud and protective of what we’ve achieved not only as a business but also of the community of thousands of indie authors who have become our students (and some close friends). We see that as being most definitely worth fighting for.

Given that this matter is the subject of an ongoing legal dispute, we will not be making any further statements at this stage and we have, on advice, closed comments on this thread.”

The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own, and do not necessarily represent those of my publisher or any of my associates.

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In the last blog, I covered how to tell whether you’ve got a problem with either your cover or your blurb. To briefly recap, the job of an ad is to get prospects to the product page, and on Amazon, since it’s basically your book cover, if you’re getting plenty of impressions but paltry clicks, it’s the cover. If you’re getting a good ratio of clicks, but few conversions to sales, it’s likely the blurb’s fault, and then, in descending order, reviews, and finally, the Look Inside chapter.

So let’s discuss the content, which is part of that Look Inside.

If you’re selling the first book in decent quantities, but the conversion to sales of books 2 through whatever is poor, it’s time to take a hard and honest look at what’s between the covers. Because the ad worked and got the reader to consider the book, and the blurb worked and got them to buy.

If they didn’t buy, and your conversions from clicks to sales is bad, chances are very good your Look Inside chapter isn’t very good – assuming your blurb rocks. I’d first look at the blurb. If it’s a winner, then I’d look at your reviews and confirm there isn’t a bunch of terrible stuff saying never buy the book. If the reviews are fine, then the only thing left is the Look Inside.

Going back to my original philosophy of “the job of the first sentence of the product description is to get the reader to the second, and the job of the second is to get them to the third, and the job of the rest is to lead them to the inevitable conclusion that they need to buy”, you can view the job of the first book in a series as that of getting them to buy the second. Job of the second book is to get them to buy the third. And so on.

If your first book isn’t seeing good conversion to book two, it probably isn’t an angry God who hates you or the unfairness of life.

It’s the content.

Which means either the story isn’t particularly compelling or good, or the characters aren’t, or the pacing isn’t, or (most likely) the writing isn’t up to competitive levels, and you need a serious editor who can polish it up and point out the deficiencies so you become a better writer.

Nobody wants to hear they have an ugly baby, but as indie authors we have to pay attention to the feedback that the market’s giving us. If you’re seeing plenty of impressions and good click through, your cover is rocking it, and if a good percentage of the clicks result in a sale, then your blurb is doing what it should. But if after book one the reader doesn’t feel compelled to move to book two, the entire effort will have failed, because while you were able to fill your funnel (book 1) the end result of it amounted to nothing.

If that’s the case, you’d be well advised to hire a competent editor, because the universe is telling you that what’s in the tin is disappointing readers, and you’re going to have a hell of a time building a career.

That’s it for this week. As always, show your support for me by buying my crap, and be nice to each other, or barring that, at least snarky and amusing.

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A quick blog on how I think of my covers and my product descriptions. Hopefully this might change the way you view yours, and help you sell more books. If not, you’re entitled to a full refund for my advice.

Let’s start with covers.

A cover is a visual identification of your product’s genre, and should be both as eye catching as possible, as well as consistent with other bestsellers in your space. It also needs to be professional. Gone are the days where you could screw around with photoshop and hope for a win. That’s so 2012. Don’t kid yourself – the market has never been more competitive, and if you hamstring your product with an amateurish or clunky cover, you’re going to suck exhaust.

The cover is also extremely important in your ads, as in Amazon ads it’s basically got to sell the reader sufficiently so they’ll click on the ad to see the product page. The worse the cover, the fewer conversions from impressions to clicks. That simple.

Which segues to blurbs.

Your product description ain’t what you think it is. It’s not a synopsis of the story, or a way to introduce characters or story arcs.

So what is it?

It’s ad copy, plain and simple. Words that will convince the reader that they need to buy the book. The fewer words used to achieve that, the better the copy.

Ads can get the reader to your product page, but the blurb intrigues them enough to where they need to buy the book in order to satisfy their curiosity. The purpose of the blurb is to sell the book. Nothing else.

An awesome blurb will sell more books, and can be measured in ad effectiveness, specifically in cost per click related to conversion into a sale. The better the blurb, the more clicks will convert into a purchase. The worse the blurb, the less they will convert.

I use Bestsellerblurb.com for the first books in my series, and have them working on the later books. The results have been stellar so far – marginal ad campaigns have turned strongly positive after changing the blurb, so this isn’t theory.

That’s all I have time for today. Hope it helps.

If not, I recommend tequila.

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